Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Gate Liturgy of Eden




In The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus, L. Michael Morales presents a fascinating (and practical) case in defense of what he calls "gate liturgy," particularly in the relationship between the old covenant tabernacle/temple gate liturgy and that which pertains to entering the Garden of Eden, as recorded in Genesis 1-3. Commenting on this in some length, Morales writes:
YHWH God's expulsion of the primal couple and his placing the cherubim and flaiming sword to guard the garden's (gate) entrance become particularly poignant apologies for the necessity of the tabernacle/temple cultus. If it may justly be said that Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all focus to some degree on the way of approaching God through the worship of the tabernacle, then the expulsion from the divine Presence in the garden sanctuary becomes a manifest "key" to understanding the Pentateuch as well as the tabernacle cultus. The association, already developed but relevant here, between the garden and the tabernacle/temple was recognized by the Jewish sages as evident in the midrash that states when YHWH drove out Adam "from the garden of Eden he revealed to him the destruction of the temple" (Bereshit Rabbah 21.8). The Hebrew Bible itself appears to draw a parallel when, with Hosea 9.15 as an example, similar language is used for the exile of Israel:  
על רע מעלל‍יהם מ‍בית‍י אגרשׁ‍ם  Because of the wickedness of their deeds from my house/temple I will drive them out 
This idea is only strengthened, further, if Joaquim Azevedo's reading of Genesis 4.7, whereby he concludes that Adam's children brought their sacrifices to the gate of Eden, is accepted. Without rehearsing his argument, based on grammatical and syntactical considerations, contextual and background analysis, he posits an understanding of Gen 4.7 as: "If you do not do what is right, fix it with the sacrificial offering lying at the doorway of Paradise, then his [Abel's] desire will be to you and you will rule over him again."1 Davidson appears to take a similar reading when he writes: 
After Adam and Eve are expelled, in their sinful state they are no longer able to meet with God face to face in the Garden. But...the Gate of the Garden becomes the Sanctuary where Adam and Eve and their descendants were to meet with God, worship Him, and bring their sacrifices. Here the Shekinah glory was manifested as God came down to hold communion with them.2 
To be sure, it can hardly be insignificant that Gen 4.7 presents the first usage of the thematically rich term "door" (פתח  petah), and in relation to sacrifice. Eden's entrance (3.24) is not only a reasonable referent for the door in 4.7, but the cherubim mentioned in 3.24 also correspond, in a cultic setting, "to the apprehension of the shrine as a door to heaven."3 Indeed, stationed cherubim, at an eastward entrance--what else can this be but a temple gate? An ancient reading of Gen 3.24 may have recognized, then, not only a threatening barrier to garden entry, but a cultic site, the place where YHWH, in the consuming theophany of his fiery Presence, was "enthroned on the cherubim" (ישׁב  ה‍כרובים yoseb hakkrubim  Ps 80.2; 99.1). In the tabernacle cultus, which likely serves as a conceptual backdrop to the narrative, the door of the tent served as the place to which the people came to present their offerings to YHWH (Exod 40.29; cf. Lev. 1.3; 4.7; 18). The cultic material of the Pentateuch, in other words, demonstrates a concern that sacrificial ritual takes place "before YHWH" (לִפְנֵי יְהוָה  lipne yhwh) or "at the door of the tent of meeting," making the garden entrance the likely place of sacrifice since the previous narrative has already marked Eden as the locus of divine Presence, not to mention that most occurrences of the phrase "before YHWH" have a sanctuary or shrine clearly in mind. Thus not only does the conception of paradise as sanctuary already involve its being a place for cultic sacrifice, but also that the ritual is being performed before the divine Presence.4








1.  Morales cites: J Azevedo, "At the Door of Paradise," Biblische Notizen 110 (1999) 45-59

2.  Morales cites: R.M. Davidson, "Cosmic Metanarrrative," 112
3.  Moraales cites: T. Stordalen, Echoes of Eden, 293
4.  L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus  [Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012], pp. 109-11



Monday, August 26, 2013

Temple-Oriented Creation



In his book, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus, L. Michael Morales comments on the hermeneutically significant position of Genesis 1-3:

That creation is portrayed as a cosmic temple means not merely that the temple cultus is infused with creation theology, but the creation itself informs the cultus because it is itself temple-oriented. Now while the argument has already been made that the cosmic mountain forms a conceptual backdrop to ANE1 literature, including that of Israel, it may also be the case that the creation account(s) of Gen 1-3 function to establish the sacred mountain paradigm fundamental to Israel's tabernacle/temple cultus. For examplle, v 2 of Gen 1 may be read as key to understanding the nature of the waters surrounding the cosmic mountain, through which one crosses to approach the divine abode. God's division of those waters may also be understood as determinative for his judicial role in relation to them. The abundant life in the divine Presence narrated in Gen 2 would explain humanity's need to approach the mount of God, and the expulsion narrative of Gen 3 to justify the tabernacle cultus as the divinely revealed means for that approach. This expulsion, we will argue, establishes the "descent" that generates the question of ascent so central to the cultus of Israel (cf Pss 15, 24).2




1.  Ancient Near East
2.  L. Michael Morales, The Tabernalce Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus [Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012], pp. 52-3

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Leithart and The Tree of Life (film)




Only three chapters into Peter Leithart's latest theologically sophisticated work, Shining Glory: Theological Reflections on Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, and I couldn't resist posting something from the book. For those who have not seen Malick's film, The Tree of Life, it is available for purchase here, or for those who like renting movies before buying, a 24-hour rental can be found here

This particular comment caught my eye early on in the book:
Juxtaposition of scenes, and the layered overlap of scenes and dialogue are crucial techniques for Malick. Early in the film, as Mrs. O'Brien completes her opening meditation on nature and grace, she says "The nuns taught us that no one who lives in the way of grace comes to a bad end." At that moment, the camera closes in on R.L., whose early death appears to be a standing contradiction to the nuns' simple message. In a charming moment early in the second half, we see toddler Jack being led by a mysterious female figure through a forest. Then he is in an underwater bedroom, his teddy bear floating nearby and his crib rising and beginning to overturn. He swims through the door and Malick cuts to Mrs. O'Brien in the final stages of labor. The underwater bedroom is the womb, the swim out of the door is Jack's birth. This juxtaposition sets up visual allusions later on. When Jack is a young teen, a boy drowns in the local swimming pool, and it is as if Jack has passed through a second birth into questioning adulthood. Near the end of the film Mrs. O'Brien swims out a door into a new life. What was initially a figure of birth finally becomes a figure of new birth, resurrection.1 

Commenting a few pages later on Terrence Malick's "thematic breadth and exploitation of the aesthetic capacities of the film," Leithart concludes:
I have watched Malick's earlier films with appreciation, occasionally with awe, but none comes close to the majesty, beauty, and challenge of the Tree of Life. ...All the life of everything is here--creation and consummation, birth and death, laughter and tears, success and failure and the failures embedded within success, male and female, sin and shame, trees and water and sky and sun, distant galaxies and the neighbor's lawn. One of the purposes of art is to enhance our attention to the world around us, and by this standard Malick's film is art of the highest order.2





1.  Peter J. Leithart, Shining Glory: Theological Reflections on Terrence Malick's Tree of Life [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013], p. 6
2.  Ibid. pp. 8-9




Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Misconceptions of Mosaic Law




In his book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, James Jordan comments on the misconception that the Mosaic laws were so tough, so demanding, and so stringent that nobody could ever keep them. He writes:
  Why do people think the Mosaic law was hard to keep? In general, it is because they do not know what the law really commanded, and because they have the Mosaic law confused with the rabbinical traditions of Judaism. The rabbinical traditions were  a "heavy yoke" (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Acts 15:10; Matthew 23:4). Jesus called the people back to the Mosaic law, making it his own, and in doing so said that He was offering an "easy yoke" (Matthew 5:20-48; 11:29-30). We should, then, briefly look at the Mosaic law. 
  What about all those sacrifices, you may ask? There were the Burnt, Meal, Peace, Thank, Votive, Sin, Reparation, "Heave," and "Wave" Offerings, for starters. Some used salt, and some did not. Some used oil, and some did not. Some required a lamb; others, oxen; others, birds. Leavened bread  was used with some, unleavened with others. Some parts of the animal were burned up, others given to the priests, and others were eaten by laymen. These things differed for each sacrifice. It was an awful lot of detail to master. The Israelite citizen, however, never offered any sacrifices himself. Only the priests were allowed to do the sacrifices, and they did them every day. They soon became familiar with all these details. 
  Compare the details of the complicated sacrificial system with the details of auto repair, and it suddenly becomes clear just how simple the priests's job was. How many different kinds of cars are there? Add on the fact that they change from year to year. Now consider all the different parts and aspects that can go wrong. Next time you take your car in, look at all the volumes of "Chilton" auto repair manuals that your mechanic keeps on hand, and compare their size and detail with the book of Leviticus. If your mechanic can learn to fix cars, and enjoy it, obviously the priests of Israel had no trouble managing the sacrificial system.
  What about the sabbath? Wasn't that a burden? No, it was a time of rest. But weren't they forbidden to cook on the sabbath? No, they kept the sabbath as a feast. But weren't they forbidden recreation on the sabbath? No, the Bible nowhere says this. Well then, what did they do? They went to church to worship God (Leviticus 23:3), and relaxed the rest of the day. The sabbath was not an "impossible burden."
  What about all those cleansing rules in Leviticus 11-15? Well, in the first place, becoming unclean only meant one thing: You were not permitted to go into the forecourt of the Tabernacle and bring a sacrifice. Since most forms of uncleanness only lasted a day or a week, it was no real burden to be unclean. Second, if you were seriously unclean, you could make other people unclean for a few hours (until sundown) if you touched them; but again, that was only a matter of concern if the other person were on his way to offer a sacrifice. At the most, being unclean was an inconvenience. Of course, if you were unclean for months on end, and could not attend festivals, it became a more serious matter.
  The laws of uncleanness were not hard to keep. You were to wash out a pot if a lizard fell into it and died. We would do the same today. You were not supposed to marry your sister, aunt, or child. Few of us would be tempted to. You were not supposed to eat dog-burgers or salted roast roaches. Most of us wouldn't either. That is because these are our customs, and we don't find them burdensome. If we were used to eating dog meat, as some cultures do, then the restriction would be temporarily burdensome until we got used to it. The Jews were not to eat pork either, but that was not hard for them. They were no more tempted to eat pork than we are to eat roaches. 
  So, the Mosaic law was not horribly complicated or impossible to keep. Of course, in the New Covenant we are not under the Mosaic law. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ replaces all the sacrifices of Moses. Christ has cleansed the world once and for all in His Resurrection, and so the laws of uncleanness no longer apply to us. That is, they no longer apply as laws. In terms of their symbolism, they still provide wisdom.1




1.  James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999], pp. 199-201






Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing the Withered Hand: Matthew 12:9-14 (Section D2)


[Jesus] went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse him. He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Matthew 12:9-14)


Continuing where we left off in this ongoing series of Matthew's gospel, we arrive at the famous story of the man with a "withered hand." This story is found in the other two synoptic gospels as well (Mark 3 & Luke 6). Unfortunately, many commentators have taught this story in a manner very similar to their misunderstandings of the previous one. It has been taught as though Jesus is really concerned about "exceptions" to God's Law under the new covenant, exceptions such as acts of mercy. As a result, the Pharisaical misunderstandings of God's Law become the focal points of this entire story, when really, this section is less of a commentary on "exceptions" and misunderstandings of God's Law and more of a commentary on misunderstandings of the Lawgiver. Such was precisely the point of the previous story, and Matthew continues that thought here as well.

Matthew even makes it obvious that he is continuing where he last left off. He says that Jesus "went on from there and entered their synagogue." We might now want to ask, 'From where is "there" and whose synagogue is "theirs"?' 

In the previous story, Jesus is walking with his disciples on the Sabbath day, among whom were certain Pharisees. Those Pharisees upbraided Jesus for permitting his disciples to do what the traditions of 1st century Judaism had determined as unlawful. It is from that scene of traveling with Pharisees which Matthew now adds onto, only this time Jesus enters their synagogue on the Sabbath day. 

Even though Luke clearly says that this second account occurs on a separate Sabbath day other than the previous Sabbath confrontation (Luke 6:6), Matthew sandwiches the two stories together in order to give his readers the impression that all of these events of chapters eleven and twelves revolve around the same day of Sabbath rest. Here, on this Sabbath day and in the synagogue of the same contentious Pharisees, we read that "a man was there with a withered hand" (ESV). Actually the Greek text is much more startling than that. After entering "their synagogue," instead of focusing upon the confrontation with the Pharisees, Matthew interrupts a seemingly smooth transition into a conversation with the Pharisees by an abrupt and somewhat odd description of a man with a damaged hand. The Greek text literally exclaims: "And behold! A man having a dried-up hand!" The ESV tries to smooth out this startlingly literal translation, but in doing so they lose the original dramatic affect which Matthew intended his readers to notice. And by noticing this exclamation, many among Matthew's Jewish audience would have picked up the significance of these events.

There are quite a few interesting connections with this man's particular disability. For starters, according to 1st century Judaism, such disabilities as a "withered-hand" (cheira xeran) were considered curses from the hand of God. The historical significance of this belief comes to light in the history of Israel's kings. In I Kings 13:1-6 we learn about Jeroboam and his first attempt to take the kingdom of Israel away from David's descendants and seize it for himself, and that story also involves a man with a "withered hand" (cheira xeran). In that story, Yahweh tells Solomon that the kingdom will be torn from his "hand" and given to another (I Kings 11:12, 31, 34-5). We then learn shortly thereafter that Jeroboam is that man. But in order to tear power away from the Davidic line of kings, Jeroboam attempts to divide the allegiance of the people by erecting a sacrificial altar far away from Jerusalem, in Shechem, the place where Israel first renewed their covenant with Yahweh after conquering the promised land. But after Jeroboam erects his idolatrous altar in Shechem, a "man of God" prophesies against his idolatrous grasp of power, and when Jeroboam attempts to seize the man of God, his hand withers (I Kings 13:4). Jeroboam's "hand" (cheira) on the kingdom, which Yahweh took away from Solomon, withered (xeran) as soon as he attempted to stretch out his hand against the man of God, to destroy him. In the end, Jeroboam was at least wise enough to plead to the man of God for healing, and the man of God in turn pleaded to Yahweh for healing; and Jeroboam's withered hand was restored.

It was because of striking accounts like that, that other statements of God pertaining to "withered" body parts were viewed as part of God's covenant curse. For example, in Zechariah 11:15-17, Yahweh describes the leadership of Israel as "foolish shepherds" who don't care about those being destroyed, or about healing the maimed, or nourishing others; instead they devour the Lord's sheep (11:15-16). Then, in the following verse, Yahweh pronounces this covenant curse upon Israel's leaders: 
Woe to my worthless shepherd who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
Let his arm be entirely withered (xeran), and his right eye utterly blinded!
In Matthew's story above, Israel's leaders aren't too much different from King Jeroboam or even the leaders of Israel described in Zechariah's prophecy. They are foolish shepherds who don't care about Yahweh's sheep. In their attempt to stretch out their arms against the people of God, Yahweh pronounces a curse upon their hands. But in Matthew's account, Jesus doesn't strike out against the Pharisees by withering their hands. Instead he strikes out against the Pharisees by healing the withered hand of a man. By healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus is pronouncing himself to be the wise shepherd of Israel, while leaving them to be the foolish ones.

But there is still more to this story. Notice carefully what Jesus implies in the answer he gives the Pharisees. They ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The Pharisees were hoping he would affirm their suspicions by answering publicly, so that they could accuse him afterward (Matt. 12:10).  But Jesus doesn't respond by affirming that healing per se is lawful to do on the Sabbath. Instead he responds by affirming what is good to do on the Sabbath. "Which one of you who has a sheep," Jesus responds, "if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

By responding this way, Jesus is comparing the Pharisees to the foolish shepherds of Zechariah's prophecy. And by healing the withered hand of the man in their synagogue, Jesus also claimed to have the authority of Yahweh which the man of God appealed to when he restored Jeroboam. In other words, Jesus was claiming to be the Good Shepherd of Israel and the ruler who cares about those being destroyed, the one who heals the maimed and nourishes the sheep of Israel unto greater health. 

But regardless of Jesus' ability to heal miraculously as Yahweh does, we learn from Matthew's account that "the Pharisees went out and conspired against [Jesus], how to destroy him."

The irony of this closing statement is great. Earlier in Matthew's gospel we learned that Jesus commissioned his twelve apostles to go to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel, and to proclaim a soon-coming salvation for those who would follow him, but a soon-coming judgment upon those who would refuse. Also, in Matthew 15:24, Jesus will affirm again that he too has been sent, by his Father, but only to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel. Yet the word for "lost" (apollymi) is the same Greek word used to describe the Pharisees seeking to "destroy" (apollymiJesus. Jesus is sent by his Father to the "lost" or "perishing" sheep of the house of Israel, but the shepherds of Israel are conspiring to "lose" him, causing him to perish. Jesus even sends out twelves apostles to represent him as they go to the "lost" sheep of Israel, but the rulers of Israel don't like the one whom the apostles represent. And so they try to destroy the Good Shepherd. 

According to Jesus' own argument, these Pharisees also recognize the value of a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath. But the irony is that they are blind to the evil of their own thoughts--thoughts which conspire to throw the Good Shepherd into a pit of their own on the Sabbath. In this sense, Jesus is like Joseph and the Pharisees are like Joseph's brothers, conspiring to thrown their brother into the pit because their Father gave him the glorious robe of authority. In another sense Jesus is like "the man of God" and the Pharisees are like Jeroboam, attempting to seize the man of God in order to continue sacrificing in their own idolatrous temple (Herod's Temple). And last of all, in relation to the prophecy of Zechariah, Jesus is like Zechariah, called to be "the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep traders" and sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14). But unlike Zechariah, Jesus would not only be the shepherd of the flock; Jesus would also become as one of the sheep doomed to be slaughtered. But in doing so--by suffering under the hand of the evil sheep traders--the rest of Yahweh's flock is spared, and the curse of withering is pronounced upon Yahweh's worthless shepherds instead. 





Saturday, August 10, 2013

John Calvin: Law & Gospel Required




John Calvin comments about those who excuse themselves from needing (in any sense) to obey God's Law because, allegedly, the gospel of free imputation of Christ's righteousness has freed them from such obligations. He writes:
Hence, also, we refute those who always erroneously compare the law with the gospel by contrasting the merit of works with the free imputation of righteousness. This is indeed a contrast not at all to be rejected. For Paul often means by the term "law" the rule of righteous living by which God requires of us what is his own, giving us no hope of life unless we completely obey him, and adding on the other hand a curse if we deviate even in the slightest degree... But the gospel did not so supplant the entire law as to bring forward a different way of salvation. Rather, it confirmed and satisfied whatever the law had promised, and gave substance to the shadows... From this we infer that, where the whole law is concerned, the gospel differs from it only in clarity of manifestation.1






1.  Peter A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; 2001] p. 187

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: Theology After Wittgenstein

Theology After Wittgenstein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I could describe this book in two words, it would be "intriguingly boring." It's intriguing mainly because of what the title infers. Ordinarily, one does not associate theology with the postmodern philosophy of Wittgenstein. Nor does one ordinarily think that Wittgenstein could help theological epistemology. Yet this road is what the author of this book attempts to pave. The reader moves from one chapter to another anticipating how all of this wittgensteinian philosophy affects theology proper. In the end it disappoints greatly, at least, as far as the stated theological insights are concerned. I actually thought of other insights which would have been more helpful than the ones the author listed in the final chapters.
This leads me to mention the boring aspect of the book: the conclusion. The conclusion is not just slightly boring. It's almost completely boring. But, if you have an imagination of your own, and you enjoy snip-its of wittgensteinian-presuppositionalism at its finest, you don't even need to read the boring chapters at the end of the book. Read the first two-thirds of the book and use your imagination for the rest.

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A Book Review: Speech and Reality, by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Speech And RealitySpeech And Reality by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


No matter how profound Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's linguistic insights are (as I've been told by many), his stream-of-consciousness writing style drives me crazy. I simply don't enjoy reading what he writes. It's all over the map and very difficult to utilize because of that.

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Grace Grows Best in Winter



"I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
Acts 9:16

We must learn to spin out comfort, peace, joy, and communion with Christ in our troubles. Grace grows best in winter. Crosses are a part of our communion with Christ. There is no sweeter fellowship than to bring our wounds to him. A heavy heart is welcome with Christ. The Lord has fully repaid my sadness with his joy and presence. It is a sweet thing to exchange my sorrows for Christ's joys. Losses for Christ are but goods invested in the bank in Christ's hand. Troubles come through his fingers, he casts sugar among them. I wonder many times that ever a child of God should have a sad heart, considering what his Lord is preparing for him. What God lays on us, let us suffer. Some have one cross, some seven, some ten, and some, half a cross--yet all the saints have full joy, and seven crosses have seven joys. The heaviest end of the cross is laid upon our strong Savior. The floods may swell, but our ark shall swim above the waters. Glorify the Lord in your suffering and spread his banner of love over you. Others will follow you if they see you strong in the Lord. Do not be faint and feeble soldier. Fear not, Christ and his crosses are two good guests worthy of lodging. Men would have Christ cheap, but the going price is firm. Christ and his cross are sweet company, and a blessed couple. My losses are rich losses, my pains easy pain, my heavy days are holy and happy days. They give me opportunity to testify to my friends. I should be satisfied that joy and sorrow share a part in my life. If sorrow shares the greediest part, I know joy's day will dawn, and do more than recompense all my sad hours. My dear brother, let God do what he wills now, and he shall make glory out of your sufferings and end them with consolation.1 




1.  Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ 



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Greg Bahnsen: More differences between the Priest and King


The separation of church (cult) from state in Israel can be seen by a number of differences between the priest and the king. The officials of the king included cherethites and pelethites (2 Sam. 15:18; 20:7), commander of the army, commander of the body guard, recorder, scribe (2 Sam. 8:16-18; 20:23-26; 1 Chron. 27:32-34; 1 Kings 4:1-6), counselors (1 Chron. 18:17; 1 Kings 12:6; 2 Kings 25:19; Jer. 52:25), overseer of public works (1 Kings 5:16), royal treasurer (1 Chron. 27:25-31), official tax collectors (1 Kings 4:7-19), and marshall of the court (1 Kings 4:5). Mettinger lists the major officials in Solomon’s court as: royal secretary, royal herald, friend of the king, house-minister, chief of the district prefects, and superintendent of the forced levy.17 These officers are clearly distinct from the officials of the temple priesthood,18 which were: high priest, suffragan priest, chief treasurer, overseer, gate-keepers, under-treasurers (these preceding being the council of the temple), heads of each course, heads of families of each course, and finally overseers of gates, guards, lots, and so forth.19 Therefore, the officials of the church did not overlap with the officials of the state but differed in each realm.  

So also did the duties and regulations differ between the ecclesiastical and executive realms of the Israelite state. The king tended to administration, justice, war, safety, foreign affairs, and commerce, while the priests were busy with consecration, the holy place and courts, ceremonial cleanness, sacrifices, cultic observances, and the like. Nowhere are the priests given rights like those of the king: to take a general levy and appoint officers thereunto (1 Sam. 8:11-17; 14:50; 2 Sam. 8:16; 20:23; 1 Kings 4:4), to take over property or oversee estates (1 Kings 4:6; 21:15; 2 Sam. 8), to lay levies on property owners and to tax agriculture and animal husbandry (2 Kings 15:20; 1 Sam. 8:15, 17; 1 Kings 4:5, 7; 5:2 ff.), to constitute the highest court of legal appeal (2 Sam. 8:16; 14:2 ff.; 15:2 ff.; 20:24; 1 Kings 4:3), to require forced labor or use conscription (2 Sam. 20:24; 1 Kings 4:6; 5:27 ff.; 9:21-22). However, the king was very certainly limited in his activities by the law of God (cf. Deut. 17:14-20). Consequently he could not carry out the functions of a priest. When the king takes it upon himself to ordain priests, they are idolatrous priests that need to be put down (cf. 2 Kings 23:5). When the king presumes to offer sacrifice to God he is condemned. Saul offers sacrifice against the command of God and thus must suffer the termination of his kingdom (1 Sam. 13:9-15). Uzziah trespassed the Lord’s commandment and offered incense upon the altar, and for this he was struck with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-21). When Jeroboam offers sacrifice at the new altar he is judged by God and stricken (1 Kings 12:32-13:5). And when Ahaz offers sacrifice upon the altar, it is the new altar made after the pattern of an altar in Damascus—the altar to a pagan god (2 Kings 16:12 ff.). The only places where a king is said to offer sacrifice and the passage does not either have a causative sense (“had sacrifices offered”) or disapprobate the behavior are: David’s sacrifice at the coming of the ark to Jerusalem and Solomon’s sacrifice at the dedication of the temple. Both of these instances are laden with strong typological value, pointing to the work of the Messianic Priest-King, Jesus Christ, who is God come to His people to dwell among them (the symbol of the temple). Thus, these two incidents must be viewed as “positive” law or activity again; they quite clearly do not sanction the priestly activity of the king as a general or standing rule (witness Saul and Uzziah). Indeed, what gives these incidents their noteworthy and special nature is precisely the extraordinary character of the events.  

Therefore, it is proper to see a normal distinction between the duties and rights of the king and those of the priest, which in turn points to the separation of church and state. While the priest had to satisfy purity requirements, among which entailed no touching of dead bodies or drinking wine, the king was allowed both to engage in war and drink alcoholic beverage. The priest had to be a Levite, the king did not; in the Southern Kingdom he had to be from Judah. 

The succession of high priests always passed from father to son (cf. Neh. 12:10-11), but the succession of kingship did not automatically go to the son. Sometimes it went outside the royal line by popular choice (cf. 1 Maccabees 9:30-31; 13:8-9) or by usurpation (Judg. 9) or to a queen (2 Kings 11:1-3; 2 Chron. 22:12). The will of the people or human arrangements were foundational to the selection or election of a king (1 Sam. 11:14-15; 2 Sam. 2:4, 8-9; 5:3; 1 Kings 1:11 ff.; 12:1, 20; 2 Kings 11:12; 21:24; 23:30). David made a mutual obligation covenant between himself and the tribes who chose him as king, based on negotiations with the elders. The elders laid down legal conditions for the king (1 Kings 12:3 ff.), and a new king would be elected when there was dissatisfaction with the present ruler (1 Kings 12:16-20). Thus although Israel’s rulership was always subject to the will of God as spoken by the prophet (cf. 1 Sam. 9:26-10:1; 2 Sam. 7:8-17; 1 Kings 11:29 ff.; 16:1; 2 Kings 9:1 ff.), it was nevertheless true that there was reality in the political movements of the people or elders in establishing what is basically a constitutional monarchy in Israel. While the priesthood was based upon strict family descent, the heads of the tribes (Deut. 1:13), some of the judges (e.g., Judg. 11:4-11), and a significant number of the kings in Israel were elected or representatively selected by the people. As Martin Noth aptly puts it, the Israelites were “king-makers.” However, the people never had the prerogative to be “priest-makers”!   

The king’s palace was differentiated from the temple (and priestly residence; cf. 1 Kings 6-7). The draftee servants of the king were separate from the temple servants (cf. 1 Sam. 8:11-17; 1 Kings 5:13; Ex. 28- 29; Num. 3:28, 32; 8:18). The Levites were exempt from the census and draft (Num. 1:48-49). And at the most practical level, the temple tax and tithes were distinct from the tributes paid to the king. While the priests were supported by the voluntary contributions of the people, the magistrate could lay taxes upon the population and enforce them. First Kings 14:26 clearly indicates a distinguishing between state revenues and religious revenues. The Older Testament recognizes an offering on the firstborn (Ex. 12:17 ff.; 13:13; 15:19 ff.; Num. 18:15 ff.; Lev. 28:26), an offering of first-fruits (Ex. 23:19; Num. 18:9, 12 ff.; Deut. 26:2 ff.; 18:4), a tithe (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 17:21-24; Deut. 12:6 ff.; 14:22-27; 26:13 ff.), atonement money (Ex. 30:11-16), and a temple tax (Ex. 38:25 ff.; 2 Chron. 24:6-11; Neh. 10:33). All of these went to the priests and are distinct from the king’s own taxation tithe (1 Sam. 8:14-17), import tax (1 Kings 10:15), vassel tributes (2 Sam. 8:2, 6; 1 Kings 5:1), gifts (1 Kings 10:2, 10, 24-25; 2 Kings 5:5; 20:12; 1 Sam. 10:27; 16:20; 2 Sam. 8:10), taxes levied on the people (2 Kings 15:19-20; 23:33-35; 2 Chron. 17:5; Amos 5:11; 1 Sam. 8:15, 17), and appropriations (Amos 7:1). Were there no separation of church and state, all collections from the populace would go into one coffer and be allocated by a single administrator, but this is not what we find in the Older Testament. When Israel was under foreign control at the time of Artaxerxes there was still a distinction drawn between church and state, for while tax was paid to the king (Neh. 5:4, 14-15) he recognized Levite-priestly exemptions (Ezra 7:24).

Another separation of church from state had to be observed with respect to the penalties imposed for violations of God’s law. While the magistrate had the power of the sword to execute appropriate criminals, the most extreme punishment imposed for the breaking of ecclesiastical law (i.e., ceremonial commandments) was excommunication.20 This did not belong in any sense to the civil arm to inflict.  

Was there a separation of church and state in Israel then? It appears that evidence supports an affirmative answer. 
The true view is that church and state were in equilibrio, and the Lord was the head of both. He was the civil head of the republic, and was also the head of the ecclesiastical system or hierarchy. These both had access to him by prophet and oracle, and found their only unity in him. Under his administration neither state nor church could dominate the other. . . . Two features are obvious. Neither church nor state derived its rights and franchises from the other, nor over the other. Neither could fill official positions in the other, or usurp the functions of the other . . . each had its own revenues.21  

There was also a recognized distinction between the personnel who comprised the national state and those in the spiritual church. This is evidenced by the doctrine of the remnant in the Older Testament (cf. Lev. 26:40-44; Isa. 1:9; 6:3; 8:16-20; 10:20 ff.; 14:21-27; 28:5; 37:30-32; 41:8-9; 42:18-43:13; 44:15; Jer. 3:12, 14; Ezek. 11:14 ff.; 33:24; 37:12; 36:26-27; Hos. 1:9-10; 2:23; 5:15-6:3; Amos 3:12; 4:11; Zeph. 3:9-13; Hag. 1:12; Zech. 8:6, 11-15). A person could have civic membership and rights (as well as social responsibilities) in the national state without being accounted as a good covenant-keeping child of God; the mention of the remnant draws a line between those who were in the state and church and those who were in the state only. As Paul explains it, “they are not all Israel which are of Israel,” and only a remnant of those who are numbered as the sand will be saved (Rom. 9:6, 27). So we conclude that there was a distinction drawn between the personnel as well as the officials of the state and church. As to the officials, there was an obvious separation between church and state regarding qualification, function, locale, support, organization, and servants.








All footnotes to Greg Bahnsen’s work cited above are found on pp. 395-400 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics [Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002; first edition 1977]. The footnotes are cited below as found in his book.
17. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, Solomonic State Officials: A Study of the Civil Government Officials of the Israelite Monarchy, Coniectanea Biblica: Old Testament Series, No. 5 (Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerups Förlag, 1971).
18. The listing of the priests in 1 Kings 4:4 does not indicate that they were princes in the royal family, but simply among the chief officials in relation to the people. Mettinger does not treat them as state officers at all.
19. Merril F. Unger, “Hebrew Priesthood,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd. ed. rev. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), p. 884.
20. Shearer, op. cit., pp. 146-147.
21. Ibid., p. 96.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Greg Bahnsen: Separation of Church & State






Brief consideration must now be given here to the relation of church and state as it bears upon the question of the magistrate’s responsibility in the current age to obey and enforce the law of God. This matter comes up in conjunction with two ways in which the magistrate’s moral obligation to God’s law is either questioned or denied. On the one hand, some will hold that the magistrate cannot be ethically bound to God’s law because that would break down the standing distinction between church and state; on the other hand, appeal to the alleged union of church and state in the Older Testament is often thought to be a factor sufficient to deny the magistrate’s current obligation to God’s law.


However, the Older Testament indicates a standing separation of church and state, and this fact should be recognized. There was a distinction between the work of Moses and that of Aaron (cf. Ex. 16:33-34; 29:1 ff.), for Aaron represented the people in distinctly cultic matters while Moses rendered general, civil leadership for them (functioning a king over the gathered heads of the tribes, Deut. 33:5). So also in restored Jerusalem there was clearly a distinction between Nehemiah the “governor” and Ezra the “scribe”; it is specifically because the civil governor could not regulate the religious life of the people that Nehemiah called for Ezra to return to Jerusalem.1 At the time of the Exodus the people were divided into tribes having one prince each and heads over the families (cf. Deut. 29:10);2 the princes were civil governors and military leaders (cf. Num. 1:1-16; 2:3-29; 7:2; 10:14-27; 13:3; 17:6; Josh. 9:15; 22:14; 23:2; 24:1), and the heads of the families under them were captains and then judges or officers (Num. 1).3 During the time of the Judges executive and judicial power stayed in the hands of the family and tribal heads (e.g., Judges 11:6 ff.; the elders’ transactions with Samuel);4 each city had a council of elders (Deut. 21:6; 25:8; Judges 8:6, 8, 14; Ezra 10:4) who worked separately but sometimes joined efforts (Judg. 1; 4:10; 6:35; 11).5 They were thus governed by the judges (1 Chron. 17:10; e.g., 1 Sam. 8:1) for 450 years until the last judge, Samuel (cf. Acts 13:20). Local affairs were in the hands of the elders who settled town disputes.6 With the institution of kingship the kings served as judges (1 Sam. 8:5; 1 Kings 3:16-28; 1 Chron. 18:14; cf. 2 Sam. 15:1-6) in addition to the other judges (Ex. 18:14-26; 2 Chron. 19:5, 8; Ezra 7:25). In fact, the kings do not seem to have had legislative power,7 but they were essentially judges or governors (the two being virtually synonymous: 2 Kings 15:15; 2 Sam. 15:41; 1 Kings 7:7; e.g., 2 Sam. 12:6; 14:4-11; 1 Kings 3:16-28; 2 Kings 8:3). Under Saul there was “no central government and the tribes, or rather the clans, retained their administrative autonomy.”8 Thus while cultic duties were assigned to the priests (Ex. 28-29), judicial-executive power resided in tribal heads (cf. 1 Sam. 8:4 ff.; 10:20 ff.; 2 Sam. 3:17 ff.; 5:1 ff.) who were later seriously consulted by kings (e.g., 1 Kings 8:1; 20:7; 2 Kings 23:1) and exercised influence over them (e.g., 1 Kings 12). Internal administration and guidance of the cities or tribes remained vested in the hands of the elders even after the exile (Jer. 20:1; Ezek. 14:1-5; 20:1). Now in these matters (i.e., pervasively the function of civil judgment) legislation originally came from Moses and not through priests; when it was adjudicated, the elders and judges are prominent. Therefore, the priests seem to be completely taken up with religious service and not leaders in the political order.



All footnotes to Greg Bahnsen’s work cited above are found on pp. 389-391 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics [Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002; first edition 1977]. The footnotes are cited below as found in his book.
1. F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations: From the Exodus to the Fall of the Second Temple (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), p. 107.
2. E. W. Hengstenberg, History of the Kingdom of God Under the Old Testament, Vol. I (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., 1871 [reprinted 1972]), p. 235.
3. J. B. Shearer, Hebrew Institutions, Social and Civil (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1910), p. 81.
4. Hengstenberg, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 67.
5. Shearer, loc. cit.
6. Roland De Vaux, Ancient Israel, Vol. I (Social Institutions), tran. Darton, Longman, and Todd, Ltd. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1965), pp. 93, 138, 152-153.
7. Ibid., pp. 150-151.
8. Ibid., p. 95.